'(The Blog) With No Name', perhaps best described as a stream of notes and thoughts - 'remembered, recovered and (sometimes) invented'.

Monday, August 06, 2007

A Cyclist In Urban India

I have been a cyclist for a very long time. By a conservative estimate, I have done more than 1 kilometer of cycling for every day I have lived. I would claim this is a high figure for an Indian town/city-dweller of my generation who has never gone on lengthy (>50 km) cross-country or inter-city cycling expeditions. The total was achieved by (rather prosaically) cycling to work and to study, day after day, year after year, in city after city...

Indians belonging to the so-called urban middle class seem rather ... er... ambivalent about cycling. Many readily say how cycling is good for health and how it would keep traffic and pollution problems down - but then hardly anybody actually cycles. Anyways, this is not an essay about cycling; I merely record some urban cycling experiences of mine.

1. Bangalore, sometime in the mid 1990s: On a hot and dry summer day, I was cycling down MG road and felt like a drink and turned into Brigade Road and into the galli where Pecos, the famous pub stood. There were plenty of motorized two-wheelers parked on the roadside and I tried to put my bike there when a young fellow in uniform materialized and with a wave of the hand, asked me to beat it. I asked him what the problem was and he would not answer. I said I would pay whatever was the parking fee for the scooters but all he would do was to repeat "No cycle!" each time with greater vehemance. I gave up but I really needed a drink so I went searching in the inner gallies for a place where my bike would look more unobtrusive...

2. Chennai around 2000: I had just joined a company and was looking for a house. I had a lot of local exploration to do to see possible apartments and for a week or so, I used to borrow bikes from the security guards who were on duty at our office (by the way, I used to offer them a rent for the bike, some used to receive the dough with thanks and there was one chap who said: "No money, Sir! When I sit here on duty, I am not using my bike so why can't you use it instead?" I did not quite understand his logic but appreciate(d) his generosity). A Mallu colleague (who hails from a part of Kerala famous for Communism) told me: "what you are doing ( clarification: he meant borrowing the cycles from the proletarians not paying a rent) is a bit of a shame!"

3. A smallish town in Kerala, around 2000. I was new to the place and since the countryside around was scenic, felt like a bit of cycling. I did not see any bicycle rental shops. I went to a shop which sold bikes (in Kerala and in many other places, bicycle sellers seldom rent them out - the latter is distinctly lower-brow trade) and asked if there is some place that let them out. The folks there responded with surprise: "These days nobody gives or takes bicycles on rent. That is old hat!" (well, 'St. Mary's' at my then hometown of Chalakudi used to do (and still does) just that; and I have written about it elsewhere in this blog). I gave up and went on a long cross-country walk.

4. Pune, around 2004: I had a near collision with a middle aged guy on a motorbike. Both parties were at fault; but I felt I was more so. I turned to say sorry when he exploded in a stream of expletives. I was stunned for a moment, then returned the stuff with interest and, still fuming, made my way to my then office. The incident had shaken me up and I told a colleague about how folks could simply start off swearing at strangers. His 'explanation' was: "if you too were on a mobike or even a pedestrian, that fellow would probably not have shouted. I guess he guessed from your bicycle you were *a plumber or smalltime mechanic* so he might have gone straight to gaalis!"

5. Pune again, quite recently: I pull over to a restaurant. There was an area of the pavement clearly demarcated as "parking for **** restaurant". It was full of mobikes but at the end there were about a dozen bicycles. I tried to put my bike among them when a security guard came and said: "You can't put the cycle there!"
Self: "Why not? All these are bicycles!"
Guard: "But they belong to the employees of the restaurant"
Self: "And I came to eat here! Anyways, what exactly is the problem?"
Guard: "See, if the cycle is stolen.."
Self: "But *you* are here anyway..."
Guard: "Not that way! If a customer's bike is stolen, that will be a major problem and I cannot give guarantee..."
Self: "And it is okay if someone flicks an employee's bike eh? Anyways, don't worry, if someone makes off with my bike, I won't blame you!"
Guard: "You don't realize! If something goes wrong, the manager will..."
Self: "I won't tell the manager! And I am hungry!"

6. Pune, the other day. At a mall near the station, there is no place to put a bicycle (the mobike area is out of bounds of course). A succession of guards guide me to a dark corner behind the building where a few cycles stand, leaning against a wall. I put mine among them. A few hours later, when I get back, most of the other bikes are gone, mine is there all right, but both tyres are flat. I confirm that someone has 'punished' me, then begin what turns out to be a 7 kilometer tramp home, hauling the bike along...

Tailpiece: The only occasions when I got to cycle abroad were in nearby Nepal - where you do get cycles on rent easily (well, it was long back, in 1999). We were visiting Pokhara and one afternoon, I went pedalling around the small town. When I got back, Mom reported: "Our travel agent called up and asked for you and when I told him you had gone cycling, he remarked "That is great; only 'Foreigners' do it and now Indians too!""


  • At 9:17 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I couldn't really understand how you take all these incidents, but I really felt bad for you. It is became traditional in India that, bike-walas scolding cycle-walas and car-walas scolding bike-walas..
    Car Recovery Service

  • At 4:54 AM, Blogger R.Nandakumar said…

    thanks peter for visiting.

    as for how i take these experiences, i just .... take them. there is no alterantive!

  • At 5:39 AM, Blogger Two Minds said…

    I think it all the respect for the power and money: of a direct correlation of motors and money. A cycler is one who doesn't have money to go even in a bus (regularly) and hence the low-brow. When I go with my flashing red 15 geared cycle ALL the guards look in awe, enquire its price, its smoothness, about its toughness, and were more than glad to keep an eye on it: so much more so if I offer them a demo of the gears. Its all in the money. And not in the technology. Shucks.


  • At 9:07 AM, Blogger Kumudha said…


    I read your post about beef...

    It was interesting. The condition of farm animals is horrible these days. Thanks to peta for exposing these horrible conditions of animals...

    Actually, being a vegan is a great way to stop this suffering...

    But, unfrtunately, even though it is a very easy to be a vegetarian in India, it is pretty impossible to be a vegan in India...

  • At 1:38 AM, Blogger R.Nandakumar said…

    thanks two minds.

    and thanks and welcome kumudha.

    interesting point on veganism that. i am reminded of the only vegan i have met - a mathematician from pune. he once said (in marathi): "tupapeksha dalda barr; dudhapeksha daru barr". which i could roughly translate as "why have ghee when there is dalda? and why bother about milk when there is booze??"

  • At 5:23 AM, Blogger kaa said…

    I used to face the same problem in delhi, parking my cycle. Then I bought a chain lock and used to lock it to electric posts.

    in another incident recently in Hypermart hyderabad. The guard stopped me, and said, you cannot go this way. He directed me to another gate. When I reached there, the watchman there directed me back to the gate I had been before. What had happened was that the earlier watchman had assumed that I was staff in the mall, and staff entry was from another gate.

    I have even observed a reverse trend, rich folks (mostly IT ppl) buy cool looking foreign bikes, and ride it with helmets. One reason given to me by a friend was, that it makes him look serious cyclist, as opposed to the ordinary cyclist and hence gets him respect from the motorist.


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